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|39th United States Secretary of Commerce|
|Assumed office |
February 28, 2017
|Deputy||Karen Dunn Kelley|
|Preceded by||Penny Pritzker|
Wilbur Louis Ross Jr.
November 28, 1937
Weehawken, New Jersey, U.S.
|Political party||Republican (2016–present)|
|Democratic (before 2016)|
(m. 1961; div. 1995)
(m. 1995; div. 2000)
Hilary Geary (m. 2004)
|Education||Yale University (BA)|
Harvard University (MBA)
|Net worth||US$700 million (2017)|
Wilbur Louis Ross Jr. (born November 28, 1937) is an American investor and the current United States Secretary of Commerce. On November 30, 2016, then-President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Ross for that post. On February 27, 2017, the Senate confirmed him in a 72–27 vote. He was sworn into office on February 28, 2017.
Before he was appointed, Ross was a banker known for restructuring failed companies in industries such as: steel, coal, telecommunications, foreign investment and textiles and who specialized in leveraged buyouts and distressed businesses. In February 2017, Forbes magazine reported that Ross has a net worth of $2.5 billion. However, financial disclosure forms Ross filed after his nomination for Secretary of Commerce showed less than $700 million in assets, and Forbes removed him from their billionaires list in November 2017. He is often called the "King of Bankruptcy" because of his record of buying bankrupt companies, primarily in the manufacturing and steel industries, and later selling them for a large profit after operations improve.
During the 2018-2019 U.S. federal government shutdown, Ross was widely criticized for making comments perceived as being out of touch with average American citizens after expressing bewilderment on CNBC about why furloughed, unpaid workers and contractors would choose to visit food banks rather than apply for a personal loan.
In February 2019 it was reported that Ross' financial disclosure was rejected by the United States Office of Government Ethics after reporting he sold bank stock that other reports indicate he did not sell on his annual financial disclosure.
Ross was born on November 28, 1937, in Weehawken, New Jersey, and grew up in nearby North Bergen. His father, Wilbur Louis Ross Sr., was a lawyer who later became a judge, and his mother, Agnes (née O'Neill), was a school teacher.
Ross drove two hours a day from New Jersey to attend the Catholic college preparatory Xavier High School in Manhattan. He ran track and was captain of the rifle team. He received his bachelor's degree from Yale College, his father's alma mater. At Yale, Ross edited one of the literary magazines and worked at the radio station. Initially, he wanted to be a writer, but after his experience in a fiction class requiring 500 words daily, he concluded that he had "run out of material." His faculty adviser at Yale helped him get his first summer job on Wall Street. He earned his MBA degree at Harvard Business School.
After obtaining his MBA from Harvard, Ross launched his career, working for money-management firms and investment banks.
In the 1980s, Donald Trump was in financial trouble. His three casinos in Atlantic City were under foreclosure threat from lenders. Ross, who was then the senior managing director of Rothschild Inc., represented investors in the casino. Along with Carl Icahn, Ross convinced bondholders to strike a deal with Trump that allowed Trump to keep control of the casinos.
Ross's private equity fund, WL Ross & Company, was created in April 2000. He had started a $200 million fund at Rothschild to invest in distressed assets. As the U.S. bubble began to burst, he decided he wanted to invest more and advise less. In 2000, the 62-year-old banker raised $450 million to buy out the fund from Rothschild and make further investments in distressed assets. The new firm was named WL Ross & Co. In 2003 investment committee was composed of David H. Storper, David L. Wax, Stephen J. Toy, and Pamela K. Wilson, a J.P. Morgan & Co. veteran. In 2006 Ross sold WL Ross & Co. to Invesco, then Amvescap. WL Ross operates as a subsidiary of Invesco.
In August 2016, Ross agreed to reimburse investors $11.8 million and pay a fine of $2.3 million to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission probe into the overcharging of fees by WL Ross & Co. The company had self-reported the issue to the SEC and did not admit any liability.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, by January 2016, WL Ross & Co. was the "biggest investor" in "Navigator Holdings, a liquefied gas shipping company."
In 2002, Ross founded International Steel Group after purchasing the assets of several bankrupt steel companies. Ross had support from the local steelworkers union, negotiating a deal with them to "save" Pennsylvania's steel industry. Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers union stated about Ross that "he was open and accessible and candid and honest and he put a lot of money back into the mills, so literally tens of thousands of jobs were saved." Ross sold International Steel Group to Mittal Steel Company for $4.5 billion, half in cash and half in stock, in April 2005.
Ross combined Burlington Industries and Cone Mills in 2004 to form International Textile Group. ITG operates five businesses, all of which operate under separate brand names: Cone Denim, Burlington Apparel Fabrics, Home Furnishings, Carlisle Finishing and Nano-Tex. In 2005, Ross purchased 77.3% of Safety Components International for $51.2 million. In 2006, Ross merged the firm into his International Textile Group. In February 2014, Ross paid $81 million to settle a lawsuit brought by shareholders that Ross breached his fiduciary duty when structuring the merger of two companies that he majority-owned: Safety Components International Inc. and International Textile Group Inc. International Textile Group was sold to private equity firm Platinum Equity in 2016.
International Automotive Components Group was formed in 2006 by Ross and investment funds managed by Franklin Mutual Advisers. In 2006, International Automotive Components Group purchased the European operations of Lear Corporation. In 2005–2007, IAC purchased several divisions of Collins & Aikman. In September 2005, investors led by Ross made a $100 million investment in Oxford Automotive in exchange for approximately 25% of the company. In 2006, Oxford merged with Wagon Automotive.
Ross founded the International Coal Group in 2004, which was formed after several coal companies went bankrupt. The United Mine Workers of America protested the bankruptcy reorganization as it led to changes in health care and pensions for the existing employees.
The Sago Mine disaster was a 2006 explosion in a coal mine indirectly owned by International Coal Group that led to the deaths of 12 miners. Federal investigators said a lightning strike was the most likely ignition source for the blast. Following the disaster, the New York Post's Roddy Boyd reported that the mine had 12 roof collapses in 2005, and that the U.S. Department of Labor data showed 208 citations for safety violations in that same period, including 21 times for build-up of toxic gases. Miners and their families accused Ross of ignoring safety violations. Ross defended his company's management of the mine. Arch Coal purchased International Coal Group for $3.4 billion in 2011.
In August 2018, Forbes reported that there was a "pattern" of allegations that Ross grifted his business partners and workers. A number of individuals had accused Ross of illicitly siphoning or stealing funds worth millions of dollars. The allegations of grift combined into a total of $120 million.
On November 24, 2016, the Associated Press reported that Trump would nominate Ross to become United States Secretary of Commerce. The Trump transition team confirmed this on November 30 and on February 27, 2017, he was confirmed by the United States Senate in a 72–27 vote. Ross took office at the age of 79, making him the oldest first-time cabinet appointee in U.S. history. The previous record-holder was Philip Klutznick, who took office at the age of 72. Ross stated in an interview with CNBC that his priorities as Commerce Secretary were to be reducing the United States's trade deficit and working with private companies on infrastructure.
In May 2017, Ross accompanied Trump on his first foreign visit, to Saudi Arabia where he generated controversy after heralding the president's visit as a success due to a lack of protests, unaware that the Kingdom had banned public protest and demonstrations in 2011.
In 2017, Ross said that a trade deal with the United Kingdom was a low priority for the Trump administration; however, he outlined possible terms and blamed the European Union for making a deal with the United Kingdom more difficult. Under Ross, the Department of Commerce has recommended to President Donald Trump an increase of tariffs in aluminum and steel imports. President Donald Trump declared on March 1, 2018 a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum imports.
In September 2017 Ross traveled to Beijing as part of efforts to reduce rising trade tensions between the two countries. Ross said that the tariffs imposed on Chinese goods are meant to "modify China's behavior."
Ross led the first-ever U.S. Certified Trade Mission to Kazakhstan in October 2018. The mission included 16 U.S. companies that concluded commercial deals with the Kazakh businesses during the visit. Ross met with the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and other high-ranking officials.
In January 2019, Ross was present with other American politicians when 23 criminal charges were announced against Chinese tech giant Huawei and its CFO Meng Wanzhou (including financial fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, theft of trade secret technology, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and sanctions violations).
In June 2018, it was revealed that Ross had failed to divest from his financial holdings, contradicting Ross's November 2017 promise in writing to the Office of Government Ethics that he had divested all his financial holdings. According to Forbes, Ross may have broken the law in doing so. An investigation by Forbes found that Ross, while secretary of commerce, owned for most of 2017 "stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government, a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin's inner circle, a Cypriot bank reportedly caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation and a huge player in an industry Ross is now investigating." Rather than divest from all the financial holdings, he put some of them in a trust for his family members. These holdings posed a conflict of interest for Ross, as the Trump administration was in a position to affect the value of the holdings.
While Commerce Secretary, Ross shorted at least five stocks. In June 2018, it was revealed that Ross shorted stocks in one of the firms before reporting emerged that would likely adversely affect the stock and then he sold the stocks at substantial profit after the story was published. Ross knew in advance that reporters were preparing a potentially negative story. Ethics experts said that the shorting was alarming given that federal office-holders are prohibited from profiting on nonpublic information. Ross denied that he had engaged in insider trading. That same month, it was also reported that Ross had shorted stocks in two additional firms. In July 2018, it was reported that Ross had shorted stocks in two more firms.
In July 2018, it was reported that Ross had failed to divest from a stock, though having previously agreed to do so at a specific date. According to an ethics agreement made by Ross, he was supposed sell his Invesco Ltd. stock, valued at between $10 and $50 million, within 90 days of his Senate confirmation. As Ross was confirmed by the Senate in late February 2017, he was supposed to sell the stock before the end of May 2017. However, Ross did not sell the stock until December 2017, during which time the stock's value had increased by between approximately $1.2 million to $6 million since May. Ross said that he "mistakenly believed that all of my previously held Invesco stock was sold". On July 13, Ross announced that he will sell all of the remaining stock he holds after he received a letter from the government's top ethics watchdog warning of "potential for a serious criminal violation."
On August 7, 2018, in a follow-up story by Forbes, five former WL Ross & Co. employees and investors claimed the firm was charging its investors on money it had lost, including allegedly charging fees on one investment that was essentially worthless.
In October 2018, documents showed that Ross had participated in a meeting with Chevron executives where they discussed oil and gas developments, tax reform and trade issues. Ross's wife owned a stake in Chevron worth at least $250,000 at the time.
When Wilbur Ross was nominated as Secretary of Commerce in November 2016 he already had powerful opinions of the U.S. Census. As Secretary of Commerce, Ross oversees the census and approved adding the controversial question of citizenship on the 2020 United States Census. Though sued by dozens of states and large cities, Wilbur Ross and The Commerce Department still want to move forward with the controversial citizenship question. These states and cities say adding the citizenship question will only discourage immigrants from participating in the 2020 census because of the fear they face of the consequence of admitting they are not legal citizens. Additionally, they believe if immigrant do not participate in the census it will decrease political representation and money for states that tend to lean Democratic.
In recent news, the Supreme Court has sided with Ross and the Trump Administration by agreeing to block the questioning about Ross's decision of moving forward with the citizenship question on the 2020 census. As a result, the November 2018 scheduled trial on the census citizenship question was postponed because of the controversy. Moving forward, the New York attorney general, Barbara Underwood, is leading a lawsuit filed by 18 states and many cities to attempt to stop the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The Department of Justice is arguing against this because they are under the impression that this trial will be useless and wasting the government's resources because the Supreme Court may eventually rule in favor of the government. U.S. District Jesse M. Furman ruled against the Department of Justice and Wilbur Ross, stating that if the trial is delayed that the appeals process may not be done by summer 2019, the printing deadline of the census. Furman blocked the census question proposal on January 15, 2019, saying Ross had violated a "veritable smorgasbord" of federal rules, asserting Ross and his aides made false or misleading statements under oath.
In November 2017, Paradise Papers reporting found that after becoming Secretary of Commerce, Ross held a stake (via a chain of offshore investments) in Navigator Holdings, a shipping company he once controlled which transports petrochemicals for Russian gas and petrochemicals company Sibur. Sibur has American sanctions against it for its close ties to Russian oligarchs Leonid Mikhelson and Gennady Timchenko, and President Vladimir Putin's son-in-law Kirill Shamalov. He had failed to clearly disclose these ties to Russian interests during his confirmation hearings. While his confirmation was pending, Ross promised in a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics to cut ties "with more than 80 financial entities in which he has interests". This letter played a key role in securing his confirmation. However, according to the leaked documents, while he did divest some holdings, he did not disclose the full extent of those he retained. Senator Richard Blumenthal accused Ross of misleading the Senate Committee on Commerce and the American people by giving the impression that he had divested entirely from Navigator and by not disclosing Navigator's ties to the Kremlin. Blumenthal called for an investigation by the inspector general of the Commerce Department. Ross denied wrongdoing and said that he had declared his financial interests in early 2017 prior to his confirmation hearing. Speaking about his financial ties to Navigator, Ross said the media was making "a lot more out of it than it deserves" and "There is nothing wrong with it. The fact that it happens to be called a Russian company doesn't mean there is any evil in it."
Ross began working with Ireland and Irish-American causes starting in 2011 with an investment in the then-struggling Bank of Ireland. In recognition for his efforts on November 6, 2014 Ross was awarded the American Irish Historical Society Gold Medal at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York. The medal is awarded to "individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to Irish American Life".
Ross was awarded the medal of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star by Japanese Ambassador Sumio Kusaka on behalf of the Japanese government at Kusaka's New York residence on February 2, 2015. This was in recognition for strengthening the bonds between Japan and the US (including his service as Chairman of the Board of New York's Japan Society, which had begun in 2010 after being on its board of directors since 2005), his work to promote and strengthen the Japanese economy, and his relief efforts after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
Ross is a hall of fame member and past director of the Turnaround Management Association. Since 2014, Ross has been the vice-chairman of the board of Bank of Cyprus PCL, the largest bank in Cyprus.
As of January 2012, Ross was the leader (or "Grand Swipe") of the secret Wall Street fraternity, Kappa Beta Phi. He served on the board of trustees of the Brookings Institution. He is also on the board of advisors of Yale School of Management. He donated $10 million for the construction of Evans Hall at the Yale School of Management.
Ross has been on the Board of Directors of Navigator Holdings since March 2012.
Ross was raised as a Democrat. He served under U.S. President Bill Clinton on the board of the U.S.–Russia Investment Fund. Later, under New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Ross served as the Mayor's privatization advisor. In January 1998 he put $2.25 million in seed money into the campaign of his then-wife, Betsy McCaughey Ross, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York. Although he was an early supporter of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Ross was previously a registered Democrat, served as an officer of the New York State Democratic Party, and held fundraisers for Democratic candidates at his apartment in New York City. Since at least 2011, Ross has been donating to Republican candidates and organizations. He became a registered Republican in November 2016.
On foreign trade, Ross has described himself as "pro-sensible trade" and said that the U.S. government "should provide access to our markets to those countries who play fair, play by the rules and give everybody a fair chance to compete. Those who do not should not get away with it – they should be punished." Initially in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Ross has said that after examining the agreement, he found it was "not consistent with what was advertised."
In 2004, The Economist described Ross's views as protectionist. Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel has also voiced concerns during 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos over Ross and the Trump administration views as "not the proper answer". Ross, at the 2018 World Economic Forum, responded to concerns by noting that "There have always been trade wars. The difference now is U.S. troops are now coming to the ramparts."
Ross married Judith Nodine in 1961. They divorced in 1995. Together, they had two children, Jessica and Amanda. In 1995, he married his second wife, New York Lt. Governor Betsy McCaughey. They divorced in 2000. On October 9, 2004, Ross married his third wife, Hilary Geary, a society writer for Quest magazine.
Ross owns an art collection valued at $150 million that includes pieces ranging from Western surrealists to contemporary Eastern sculptures. Ross owns 25 works by René Magritte, valued at $100 million, including some of the artist's most valuable paintings, such as The Pilgrim.
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| United States Secretary of Commerce
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
as Secretary of Agriculture
| Order of Precedence of the United States
as Secretary of Commerce
as Secretary of Labor
|U.S. presidential line of succession|
as Secretary of Agriculture
| 10th in line
as Secretary of Commerce
as Secretary of Labor